Rolling in Compton With Snoop and Dre

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The most famous member of the Death Row entourage is Snoop Doggy Dogg, a tall, slender young man with milk-chocolate skin and cornrows as thick as cobs. Impossible to take your eyes off of, Snoop is endearingly awkward in front of a camera; where Dre is aloof and unapproachable in public, children swarm around Snoop as if he were driving an ice-cream truck. Snoop wrote the rhymes for — and rapped on — about 60 percent of The Chronic.

How eagerly anticipated is Snoop's album Doggystyle? Two weeks before the album is scheduled to hit the streets, Dre refuses to let even Iovine listen to more than two songs outside of the studio, but every hip-hop fan you talk to already knows the names of the album tracks by heart: "Who Am I," "Gin and Juice," "G's Up, Hos Down."

The answer to the musical question "Who Am I," the first single from Doggystyle, turns out to be "the nigga with the biggest nuts." "Everybody wants to know something about Snoop," Snoop says. "What is it about Snoop? What makes Snoop click? It's cool being a mystery.

"I wasn't no gangster-ass type of nigga to be starting no shit, but there's just all kinds of little ghetto stuff that's easy for a young black man to get into. The hardass gangbanger life ain't the bomb at all, period. The other day I was looking at an old picture from back when I used to play Pop Warner football, and, like, of twenty-eight homies on the team, twelve are dead, seven are in the penitentiary, three of them are smoke out and only me and Warren G are successful. I love my homies, but damn, I don't want to stay down there with y'all."

When he was only a couple of weeks out of high school in Long Beach, Snoop was sent up after a drug bust, and he spent three years in and out of jail. He came to the realization that rapping might be a more profitable endeavor than crime. His first single with Dre, from 1992's Deep Cover soundtrack, included the chorus "187 [murder] on an undercover cop," and the single spent several months on the rap charts.

"Now I do all right," Snoop says. "I feel like a Malcolm X figure now. But, you know, a lot of times little white kids come up to me, and it makes me feel damn good. Sometimes I ask them if they really listen to the tape, and they know every word. I'm not prejudiced in my rap, I just kick the rhymes."

One of the nine places from which Dre's posse has been ejected in the course of recording the Snoop album is a large, comfortable studio complex in the deep San Fernando Valley. A freaky drum track pumps from the giant studio speakers, and Dre, headphones on, hunches over his turntables surrounded by hundreds of records: Three Times Dope, early Funkadelic, Prince's Dirty Mind, even a tattered Jim Croce LP.

A bass player wanders in, unpacks his instrument and pops a funky two-note bass line over the beat, then leaves, though his two notes keep looping into infinity. A smiling guy in a striped jersey plays a nasty one-fingered melody on an old Mini-Moog synthesizer, and Dre scratches in a surfadelic munching noise, and then from his Akai MPC60 sampler comes a shriek, a spare piano chord, an ejaculation from the first Beasties record — "Let me clear my throat" — and the many-layered groove is happening, bumping, breathing, almost loud enough to see.

Snoop floats into the room. He closes his eyes and extends both hands toward Dre, palms downward. Dre holds out his hands, and Snoop grazes his fingertips with a butterfly flourish. Somebody hands Snoop a yellow legal pad. The rapper fishes a skinny joint out of his pocket and tenderly fires it up. He picks up a pencil and scribbles a couple of words before he decides to draw instead, and he fills the sheet in front of him with thick, black lines.

Dre twists a few knobs on the Moog and comes up with the synthesizer sound so familiar from The Chronic, almost on pitch but not quite, sliding a bit between notes. The people in the crowded control room bob their heads to the beat in unison. "Every person walking has some kind of talent that they can get on tape," Dre says. "I can take anybody who reads this magazine and make a hit record on him. You don't have to rap. You can do anything. You can go into the studio and talk. I can take a fuckin' three-year-old and make a hit record on him. God has blessed me with this gift.

"Sometimes it feels good for me to be able to mold an artist and get him a hit record and to show him something that was inside of him that he didn't know about. Everybody in the business has called me to do some tracks, but I can't see myself doing anything for somebody who has money. I get more joy out of getting somebody like Snoop. I tell Snoop all the time: He is going to be the biggest shit, Snoop is going to be the biggest thing to black people since the straightening comb.

"I've never heard the perfect hip-hop album, but I'd like to make one. The Chronic is about the closest. Public Enemy's Nation of Millions was dope as hell. Eric B. and Rakim, their first album, I really liked a lot, and Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded was def."

It is suggested N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton is a pretty good album, too.

"To this day," Dre says, "I can't stand that album. I threw that thing together in six weeks so we could have something to sell out of the trunk."

Still, I say, Straight Outta Compton codified the myth of the urban black gangsta and sold that myth to America.

"People are always telling me my records are violent," Dre says, "that they say bad things about women, but those are the topics they bring up themselves. This is the stuff they want to write about. They don't want to talk about the good shit because that doesn't interest them, and it's not going to interest their readers. A lot of the motherfuckers in the media are big hypocrites, you know what I'm saying? If I'm promoting violence, they're promoting it just as much as I am by focusing on it in the article. That really bugs me out — you know, if it weren't going on, I couldn't talk about it. And who came up with that term gangsta rap anyway?"

"Dre," I say. "You did."

"Oh, maybe so," Dre says. "Never mind, then."

Excerpted from The '90s: The Inside Stories from the Decade that Rocked by the Editors of Rolling Stone. © 2010 by Collins Design, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Click here to order the book, go here to read more about it, or visit the HarperCollins web site to preview the pages.

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